"Thank you for updating"

post by rysade · 2011-05-28T23:41:49.958Z · score: 8 (17 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 24 comments

Would it be supercilious to thank someone for updating?  I know I would feel uncomfortable doing it, but I often feel the urge to do so anyway.

There seems to be something vicious about thanking them.  My own estimation of my own belief has not changed in these situations.  I feel fairly satisfied that the other has considered my view and has shakily come to agree with it. I worry it would be a little like saying 'screw your opinion, now you see I'm right.'

However:

It is both rational and polite to thank them.  The gentlemen's agreement of rationality allows for one person to be wrong and not lose face at all.  When someone concedes something to me (a point) I typically feel the need to thank them.

What do you think?

24 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-29T01:22:35.642Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagine this scenario:

Alice and Bob are programmers who maintain code that was written aeons ago by the legends of old, Arthur and Merlin. Alice owns Arthur's code and Bob owns Merlin's code. While Alice and Bob consult each other for hard programming problems, they don't otherwise interact or compete. One day, Bob is exploring a chunk of Merlin's code that he hasn't seen before - he needs to change it to sort something case-insensitively. He asks Alice for help, and she remarks, "Ew, Merlin used qsort() there. That doesn't provide any complexity guarantees." Bob says, "Merlin knew what he was doing - I don't care about the sorting algorithm, I just need to change the comparison." Alice looks a few things up and returns, dropping the science: "Here's the C Standard - look, no complexity guarantee. Here's our library's source code - look, it's a bog-standard quicksort. Here's Wikipedia - quicksort has worst-case quadratic performance. And here's a worst-case input - feed it to Merlin's program and watch it take forever, case-sensitive or not. Here's the shiny new C++ Standard - std::sort() provides a better complexity guarantee. Do you want me to recompile Merlin's code with it, so you can see for yourself how it eliminates the pathological performance?"

Bob thinks about this (or more likely, staggers underneath the relentless assault), and says, "Oh, you're right. qsort() really is bad news here."

Who has received a gift and should give thanks in return?

Alice has indeed received a gift from Bob - Bob chose to be rational and concede when presented with a proper argument, instead of choosing to be an asshole. This isn't trivial - name any political debate and it would be substantially improved if all of its participants chose not to be assholes - but it isn't exactly world-shattering generosity either. Bob just did what he should have done anyways. "Thank you for updating" would be an LW-jargony way of saying "thank you for not being an asshole", which isn't an especially polite thing to say.

On the other hand, Bob has received a gift from Alice - Alice went out of her way to improve Bob's understanding of the world. This came at some cost to Alice (time, at least) with little immediate concrete benefit to her. It has immediate concrete benefits for Bob - in this case, he gets to fix a lurking problem now instead of mysteriously suffering from it later - and potentially longer-lasting benefits, depending on whether he gets a chance to use this knowledge in the future.

I propose that this is a good way to end the exchange:

Bob: "Thanks! This would have been an enormous headache for me later." Alice: "You're welcome, and thanks for listening."

comment by rysade · 2011-05-29T02:56:08.624Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this really does get right to the heart of it. Thanking for updating does sound particularly conceited in retrospect.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-04-22T00:48:40.023Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for updating about thanking people for updating.

comment by Bongo · 2011-05-29T04:36:30.328Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bob chose to be rational and concede when presented with a proper argument, instead of choosing to be an asshole.

Being rational doesn't entail (publically) conceding to proper arguments or not being an asshole.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-05-29T20:12:39.018Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It does in many (probably most) practical contexts.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-05-29T13:35:51.415Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Thanks for listening" strikes me as about right: they're taking an effort to seriously consider what you have to say, which is worth thanking regardless of whether they eventually agree with you. Thanking them for coming to a particular conclusion seems like it could disincentivize honest truth-seeking.

(Do make a point of thanking people if they listen to you, consider your ideas seriously, and eventually decide that they still disagree.)

This only works in the case where Alice went to considerable effort to provide a well-organized argument, as in your example. I'm not sure what to do in casual conversation.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-05-29T08:19:26.045Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Edit: it seems that std::sort was allowed to have O(n^2) worst case complexity up until the current draft standard.) If Alice thinks it's a good idea, I'd prefer her to make her own patch changing qsort to std::sort, separate from Bob's patch for case insensitive comparisons.

comment by Miller · 2011-05-29T01:52:23.901Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Python version: :p

Who has received a gift and should give thanks in return?

comment by Bongo · 2011-05-29T04:46:49.267Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is both rational and polite to thank them.

Downvoted for falling short of the stringent standards for non-cringeworthy use of "rational".

comment by rysade · 2011-05-29T09:40:51.238Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll read this over. Thank you.

[edit] Looks like I have a long way to go before I can use that phrase again...

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-29T09:56:54.027Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would it be supercilious to thank someone for updating?

I would find it mildly patronising but would not be offended.

I would prefer to be thanked for taking the time and effort to engage with you, understand your perspective or position and have a positive human interaction. If I am also willing to signal that I have changed my mind based on your words then it may be more useful and feel more natural if, instead of thanking me, you reciprocated the goodwill through subtext.

comment by Zetetic · 2011-05-29T00:27:08.255Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's difficult to not come off as proud, since debates are often viewed as more of a battle than a pure exchange of information. Seems like it would depend on the person's demeanor.

There simply isn't a one size fits all for that sort of thing, however; I suppose it might be alright to say something like 'well, it's always a vigorous debate with you' and shake their hand in order to help ensure that no resentment builds if the other person prides themselves on their debating prowess. That sort of gesture could keep up an air of mutual respect, though it might also come off as corny if executed poorly or with the wrong sort of person. It's hard to say.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-29T16:59:31.568Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with Pavitra that it makes sense to thank people for listening, whether or not they end up closer to agreeing with you. But it's often difficult to tell whether someone is seriously listening to you or not, so I don't know how well this works out in practice.

The best way to handle this I thought of in a minute or so: when someone says they've changed their mind, acknowledge this respectfully (this might be a good time for "thanks for listening"). Then immediately change the subject to something they will gain status from: an area where they are successful or a topic they know more about than you do. Later on, maybe even several days later, after the tension has fully dissipated, say something like: "You know, you're a very mature person. I really respect you for being able to change your mind like you did about (whatever); I'm still struggling with learning to do that myself."

Yes, this is flattery. If you can't do flattery, you should probably work on that skill sometime soon.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-05-30T05:41:00.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since you're the one who helped them become less wrong, it seems like congratulations would be more in order, but that feels even less socially appropriate.

comment by Xachariah · 2011-05-29T23:54:36.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the purpose of thanking someone? To show your gratefulness of them, to show you appreciate them, and to show that you hold them in high esteem.

When someone else has updated their views, I do not feel grateful to them. The feeling of being condescending comes from that lack of gratefulness. However, I do hold them in either higher esteem and appreciate that people like them exist in the world. Saying so without the connotations of gratefulness sounds more sincere and appropriate.

"I appreciate that you took the effort to listen and update your beliefs. That is a hard thing to do, and I admire you for your ability to do so."

comment by Duke · 2011-05-29T00:56:13.507Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should say something like "Now that we can agree on x, let's discuss y." (Given that agreeingt on y is dependent on a prior agreement about x.) Getting someone to agree with you is not the end of the conversation, it is the beginning. Thanking them for agreeing with you makes it seem like all matters are settled and now you may peacefully part ways.

Also, I disagree that it is intrinsically rational or polite or part of some gentlemen's agreement to thank someone when they concede your point.

comment by rysade · 2011-05-29T02:01:19.710Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, sure. I am following your criticism, I think. In a conversation I expect to be temporarily conceding points and suspending disbelief, etc. I don't plan on thanking them every step of the way while we build toward a fully formed argument. I plan on thanking them at the end, when they feel like the ultimate outcome of our discussion has led them to change their mind on the topic under debate. The feeling of changing your mind on something is pretty uncomfortable, and I sometimes feel like the guy who talked me into it owes me big. This is purely an emotional, non-rational of thing. It's following that sensation that led me to ask the question if we should thank people for updating.

"The gentlemen's agreement of rationality" was a metaphor I was using to describe the way I feel when I'm talking to somebody else who understands what it is like to know that there is a truth out there which we are both trying to find. It contrasts the butting-of-heads you'll find when you are just arguing with someone.

Would you please explain further why it is not rational to thank someone for becoming less wrong?

comment by michaelkeenan · 2011-05-30T04:16:33.192Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Instead of thanking someone, you could compliment them, or at least comment on how uncommonly reasonable they are. Someone once wrote this in response to me saying I was wrong:

... You know, I think we may be having a polite discussion, informed by reasonable data and fact-checking, and with considered re-consideration of claims and opinions, ON TEH INTERWEBS!!! ... I'm a little weirded out by this.

I didn't find it patronizing; I liked the implied compliment that I was unusually polite and reasonable.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-05-29T20:15:16.689Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me there's nothing wrong with thanking someone for not taking an action that's 1) harmful and 2) tempting.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-05-29T05:33:32.819Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would it be supercilious to thank someone for updating?

Thanking someone for helping you become less wrong seems like it makes more sense than thanking someone for becoming less wrong.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-05-29T20:16:26.274Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It depends on who would be the one to suffer the consequences of your being wrong.

comment by rysade · 2011-05-29T09:41:28.949Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, but it feels like I owe them, rather than the other way around.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-05-29T16:06:03.583Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps this indicates that you're thinking of the thing you currently believe as "your" position, and of persuading the other person as "winning" an argument. The present discussion aside, you might want to try to change that.

comment by calcsam · 2011-05-30T17:40:10.475Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, it probably depends on:

  • how emotionally charged the matter is.

  • how much the other person, like wedrifid dislikes what they perceive as gratuitious complements.

You could also try an indirect complement, like "I knew you'd come around" or "Welcome to the club."

It's important to note that insulting a person for updating is relatively common but (always?) the wrong thing to do. An example from Stephen Covey:

One day a mother who was beside herself with anxiety called me. "My daughter is becoming interested in a [boy the mother was concerned about]. She is really becoming involved."

The more she talked, the more I was convinced that the problem was not so much with the daughter—it was with the mother. At every opportunity, she lectured that daughter and preached to her and used her boyfriend, who later became her fiance, as a weapon against her by saying, "Look at the kind of a boy he is. Do you want to marry a boy like that!"

"I love him."

I advised the mother, "Be careful you don't drive her into his arms. The more you deny her rights to be and to exist and to live, the more she'll feel to fight by behaving opposite to your expectations."

She could not understand this. Intellectually she could, but she was so subjectively involved that she could not risk another approach. She had never known another. Well, the girl and her fiance were married, and from all I heard, neither of them became very happy. The girl realizes what she has done now, and there is even a bigger gap because the parents tend to use her choices and problems as a weapon against her, saying, "We told you so."